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When animals are at center stage in a divorce proceeding

Courts across the country, including in Arkansas, have traditionally regarded pets as property interests in family law squabbles.

In other words, a beloved pet -- whether a dog, cat, bird, horse or any other animal -- has long been regarded by judges overseeing a divorce matter as akin to a car, a stereo or a piece of furniture.

That likely sounds sacrilegious to virtually any pet owner, with scores of millions of Americans having unbridled love for their pets. Animal owners patently do not regard an animal living with them as being on par with a sofa or other inanimate object, and their actions consistently show that they want only what is in their pet's best interests.

There it is -- best interests. That is, of course, the perennial family law standard when it comes to child custody matters in divorce cases. A growing number of people -- including some judges -- think it should be more consistently applied in pet custody cases.

A recent pet-related case from New York is attracting some national interest, following a judge’s ruling granting a divorcing same-sex couple oral arguments to hash out who should get the family dog.

“I consider this puppy … the love of my life,” says one of the women involved in the case, who says her former partner gave her the dog as a gift.

The other claimant notes that she “was the one who cared for and financially supported [the dog] on a primary basis.”

Says the judge, who notes the dissimilarity in laws among various states regarding pet -related matters, “[T]here is certainly room to give real consideration to a case involving a treasured pet.”

There are many ways to go about negotiating and resolving a dispute over a pet during a divorce, including mediation and informal arrangements concluded without the involvement of a judge. An experienced Little Rock family law attorney can answer questions and provide guidance regarding a pet-related concern.

Source: New York Post, "Landmark custody battle over dog in divorce," Julia Marsh, Dec. 4, 2013

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